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Don't be a menace to Gordon Street while waiting in line for a McCafe

This week's Market Squared wonders how we can change traffic behaviour if there's no will on the part of people to change
20180528 Bike to Work Day KA 05
Cyclists are blocked by a car stopped in the bike lane at the entrance to the McDonald's drive-thru on Gordon Street near Wellington Street in 2018. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday file photo

If the human race is lucky enough to make it to the other side of the year 2100, we might look back and say that human civilization teetered on the edge of oblivion because of the drive thru.

The invention of the drive thru plays into all of our worst tendencies as a people: it’s consumeristic, it’s elitist, it’s lazy, and the slow moving line of idling cars does nothing for an environment teetering on the brink of collapse.

Now, we live in a free society, and if you want to stuff fries in your face, have at thee, but what you’re not entitled to do is running over some poor cyclist in order to get in line to buy those fries.

Traffic has been top of mind this week, both in the community and around the council horseshoe. The question is can we force changes to driving behavior by changing speed limits and improved safety measures?

I’m afraid the answer is no.

In 2014, the city launched an effort to reduce speeds on Downey Road with some innovative road design. You see, people had a visceral negative reaction to the usual options like red lights, stop signs, and speed bumps, and that necessitated some creativity in road design.

The result was the installation of raised intersections, speed cushions and speed bumps-outs, and the reaction was instantaneously negative. In a petition started on, area residents began complaining about the congestion caused by people navigating Downey’s unusual renovation, and that the road had somehow become even more of a hazard and a danger.

“I understand that we’re trying to make it slower. Before, I saw cars and trucks coming down there at an immense speed,” the petition’s originator, Ray Stultz, told the Guelph Mercury Tribune. “Yes, you have those curbs and turns, they might slow things down, but as people get used to it, the speed will go right back up again.”

In other words, there’s no point in changing things because people will do what they do behind the wheel, and what they do is stay preternaturally focused on their own need to get to where they’re going as fast as they can, in the shortest distance they can.

Consider last spring when the City announced that they were changing all crosswalks in Guelph so that the walk signal would come up automatically because more people were out walking and pressing the walk signal button was a communal experience best avoided.

That lasted a week before the claxon of anger and recrimination by motorists delayed in their trip by a matter of minutes forced the city to change things back, and when you consider this, it’s even more weird that there are people on council that think local drivers would accept a 30 kilometres per hour speed limit.

I wish to preface this next section by saying that there’s no one in this city more anti-car than me. I’m continually stymied and angered by this city, which claims rock solid environmental bonafides but has a systemically broken transit system.

Indeed, as city council and staff keep trying to find solutions to traffic, they keep forgetting the most obvious way to reduce pressure on the roads: make transit more attractive.

What does this have to do with the speed limit debate? Guelph Transit was one of the agencies that advised against going all the way down to 30 km/h because the buses have to obey the new speed limit too.

I’ve discussed in this space before about how transit routes can get disrupted by the smallest things – higher than normal passenger counts, a train crossing, a detour for road construction – so is council under the impression that the current route system would not be impacted by a sudden drop in the speed limit by 20 km/h on many of Guelph’s major roads?

Members of council are using outreach and Twitter polls as evidence that there’s overwhelming support to lower the speed limit to 30. Of course there’s majority support for lower speed limits, just like a poll will show support for transit, more active transportation, more walkability, less parking and more speed mitigation efforts.

The rub? All support for traffic solutions evaporate when people realize the rules apply to them too. To most car drivers, traffic is a problem cause by other people, and no one sitting in a traffic jam ever, ever thinks it’s their fault.

Practically speaking, those drive thru problems on Gordon Street could be solved easily by people seeing the line up and choosing one of the following two options:

1) Going somewhere else to get coffee or a bite.

2) Parking their vehicle and walking into the restaurant.

The problem is choice, or as another fast-food joint once put it, “Have it your way, right away.” On the roads, everyone wants it their way, and they want everyone else to have it a different way. Can we force people to change road behaviour without the will of the people do it for themselves? It hasn’t worked so far.


Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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